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Minnesota legislative wrap-up

Farm organizations weigh in on the wins and losses of the ’24 legislative session.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 29, 2024

7 Min Read
legislative building against cloudy sky
BRIGHT SPOTS: Despite the chaos that marked the end of the ’24 legislative session, Minnesota farm organizations highlight some wins for agriculture. Kevin Schulz

Minnesota’s 2024 legislative session wrapped up under what some might call disarray, but the state’s Farmers Union and Farm Bureau give the legislators a passing grade for the work achieved on behalf of farmers.

“At the end of the day, I would say it’s a pretty successful session for agriculture and for Farm Bureau’s priorities,” says Dan Glessing, Minnesota Farm Bureau president and a Waverly-area farmer.

Stu Lourey, Minnesota Farmers Union government relations director, says despite this session being a supplemental year, “I don’t think we could have taken for granted that we got an agriculture budget this year. The agriculture department was already funded.”

AGRI Program

At the top of Glessing’s and Lourey’s list of victories is the continued funding allocated to the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program administered by the state Department of Agriculture that offers a number of programs under the AGRI umbrella.

“We are always glad to see the funds come to agriculture and those programs that reward those people who want to try new things — and voluntary and incident-based are kind of two things that we hang our hat on at Farm Bureau and as farmers — because you’re taking some risks when you’re trying these new things,” Glessing says. “At the end of the day, you want to have a little bit of an assurance on the funding side of things that you’re going to be not out underwater — too bad if things don’t work out.”

Lourey says the importance of AGRI funds has been showcased a few times in recent years, specifically with COVID-19, with designated funds under the program allowing the Minnesota Department of Agriculture team, led by Commissioner Thom Petersen, to respond quickly. “When the large packing plants closed down because workers were getting sick, the Department of Agriculture was able to respond quickly and help to ramp up capacity at small and very small plants across the state through grant programs and through targeted technical assistance, putting staff on the case.”

More recently, dedicated AGRI funds piloted a program with the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza to help turkey producers purchase deterrents to protect their barns from wild flocks infected with HPAI.

Legislators approved an additional $2.5 million in undesignated AGRI funds.

Soil health equipment grant program

Improving soil health is gaining traction, but the cost of equipment purchase is a hurdle hard to clear, so Glessing says legislators in this past session approved an additional $500,000 in grant money for producers to purchase equipment.

“This is looked at as a way to help get those practices on the landscape faster by making funds available for the equipment to do those practices,” he says. “It’s like a one-two punch in a good way. We did the soil health work, the actual framework, here in years past, and now are trying to get those practices on the landscape. And these grants will allow you to get some equipment to do that.”

Minnesota Farmers Union’s Lourey acknowledges that though soil health practices pay for themselves over time, “There’s a significant amount of risk in trying it out. And a big part of that is purchasing that big, expensive piece of equipment, so the state can help de-risk some of that and support farmers in doing that work.”

Nitrates and groundwater protection

Farmers and other environmentalists have been working on improving groundwater for generations, but that has taken on greater significance as of late, when the EPA requested that Minnesota develop a plan and provide education and outreach, as well as alternative drinking water to southeastern Minnesota residents with water above the maximum contaminant level for nitrate.

“We need to have a thoughtful response to this EPA petition that works for farmers, works for agriculture and makes sure that folks in the immediate term are given access to clean drinking water,” Lourey says. The agriculture budget, in addition to funding as part of the Legacy Bill, invests $2.8 million “in Department of Agriculture programs that help upgrade private wells with reverse osmosis systems and that sort of thing, to help make sure that folks have access to clean drinking water now.”

During legislative discussions addressing the nitrate-drinking water issue, there was a movement to narrow the scope of the Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Council to concentrate on the issues facing southeast Minnesota residents. State farmers support AFREC through a fee of 40 cents per ton of fertilizer sold.

“They wanted to take that money and specifically designate it to southeastern Minnesota. Our argument has been there are appropriate funds for helping to test for the nitrates and address nitrate issues,” Glessing says. “So AFREC is, in our opinion, doing some good things. Whether it’s looking at new ways to apply new research projects — and that all comes from farmer dollars — trying to do the best with what they’ve got. … It’s always encouraging to see the results coming in a little less, a little less, a little less on nitrate levels.”

With progress being made, Glessing was glad to see AFREC remain a statewide program, rather than the discussed narrow focus on southeast Minnesota. “So, someone up in Roseau County, for instance, pays into this fertilizer tax,” he rationalizes. “What benefit are they going to get from nitrate mitigation in southeastern Minnesota? Absolutely none. … Like I said, there are appropriate funds that the government has at their disposal to address those situations and, and quite honestly, we’re doing a lot of things to address it already.”

Right to repair

Lourey says the Farmers Union stance is that producers would be well-served with legislation guaranteeing their right to repair their equipment, “the right to go to an independent technician to fix that equipment.” The right to repair discussion has been an MFU fight long before Lourey joined the organization in 2019.

“We’ve made the case that we need— like in Colorado — legislation guaranteeing farmers the parts, tools and diagnostic equipment that they need to keep their stuff in good working order,” he says. While there was progress, right-to-repair legislation was not completed, but Lourey says the issue will be picked up in future sessions.

American Farm Bureau Federation has negotiated memorandums of understanding with several major ag equipment manufacturers giving farmers access to error codes, specialty tools and information on how to fix the problem, while companies maintain intellectual property rights.

Mandatory EIS

Glessing is pleased that a bill failed calling for mandatory preparation of environmental impact statements for the construction or expansion of feedlots of 10,000 animal units or more.

“We [Farm Bureau] have policy that suggests any more roadblocks on permitting of livestock we’re against,” he says. “We have a good process now. The MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] commissioner can request or require an EIS at any time currently, but this bill would have been requiring it automatically instead of letting you do your environmental assessment worksheet first — which kind of triggers or doesn’t trigger the EIS. … And there’s a difference there as far as the funds it takes — several thousands if not millions of dollars to do these EISs, plus two to three years of time doing that. It definitely does throw another roadblock in the folks who are wishing to expand their livestock site.”

Lourey says Farmers Union supported the bill that would have required the higher level of permitting.

“The case we made to lawmakers is first that our state, communities and farmers would be better served by development that is more distributed — in agriculture, that helps spread out wealth and makes us more resilient. But right now, we’re seeing rapid consolidation,” Lourey says. “From 2017 to 2022, we lost 40% of our dairies in Minnesota, but we didn’t lose any cows in our state.”

He adds that the state’s feedlot rules were written “when 1,000 or 2,000 animal units was a big farm — and now we’re seeing a request to permit above 20,000 animal units. We think it’s in everyone’s interest to do more due diligence to ensure there’s sufficient water and environmental protections for a project that large. An EIS also includes a more full analysis of the economic and social effects of a project.”

Click here to see the Minnesota Farmers Union overview of the latest session.

Click here to see the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s recap of the latest session.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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